Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“And now such a warm commotion, such busy love.” - Alice Munro

Last week I had what some call a "staycation." I'm not a fan of that word; its silly suburban-ness feels forced even as I type it. I struggle to come up with another term, however. I stayed in town and had a vacation. Thus, staycation. Ugh.

I really don't like that word.

Regardless of what it's called, Mr. Awesome and I had a marvelous time not working last week.

On our first Friday evening, to kick off our
staycationstay-at-home vacation, we ate a typically delicious dinner at our favorite restaurant, Justus Drugstore. That evening, we watched Muppets Most Wanted and it was hilarious. I'm a sucker for Muppets, but even Mr. Awesome thought it was great. Wocka wocka!

Saturday morning we arose bright and early to run in our first 5K since January's Groundhog Run: Julia's Warrior's Run for Hope 5K in Smithville, Missouri. The Julia Bargman Hope Foundation is named after a Smithville middle school counselor, coach, and mentor who lost a 16-year battle with breast cancel in 2010. The foundation raises scholarship money for Smithville high school students and the Smithville Booster Club, as well as raising awareness to the fight against breast cancer.

A few days before the race, Mr. Awesome and I walked the course and found it to be very, very hilly.


We were both glad to know going in that this would be a challenging course. By knowing what we were in for in advance, we were able to plan on trying to go hard downhill, then hold back on the flat to have some energy left for that bitch of a hill at the end.

Mr. Awesome had a good run, but was 9 seconds over his best 5K time.

He finished strong in 24:09.

I had a good run, too. My Garmin watch helped keep me on pace.

Despite the hill, I managed to set my own PR with a finish time of 35:48!

After our run, we headed to breakfast at Ginger Sue's in Liberty, then to the Liberty Farmer's Market where we picked up some heirloom tomatoes and watermelon. Later, we headed back to Smithville for some pizza and deck time with our friends, the Andersons.

On Sunday morning I woke up before Mr. Awesome and finished a book: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. This was my first time reading Munro's short stories, and it won't be the last. Her voice is really unique - strong and delicate at the same time. Her characters feel real and grounded, and the stories are like looking through windows into the lives of other people. I especially liked the story "Floating Bridge" which puts us with a woman on the day she's told her cancer is in remission. It's beautifully told and intimate, revealing not so much joy as uncertainty. So it is with all of the stories - intimate views of the lives of ordinary people, turned into something special.

We then headed to Bristol in the Power and Light district for their incredible Sunday Brunch. I can't say enough good things about it. Everything we ate was fresh, flavorful, and creative.

On Monday we went for a walk at Watkins Mill State Park (they have a great 4-mile paved trail through the woods around a lake), went swimming, had Banh Mi sandwiches from Pigwich (oh man, so good), and went running and weightlifting at the gym.

Speaking of gyms (which we're at almost every day): we started going to Planet Fitness last month when they opened near our house and oh my gosh do we love it! Lots of treadmills, elipticals, bikes, and every type of weight machine you can imagine. Plus a full bench setup (smith style), free weights, a Crossfit-style space (if you're into that sort of thing), and a stretching area. It's open 24 hours Monday through Thursday, closes at 9pm on Friday, and is open 7am to 7pm on Saturday and Sunday. All of this for $10 a month! If I sound like I'm trying to sell memberships, I am - it's cheap, it's good, and fitness is important if you want to live the best life possible. Okay, I'm done with my sales pitch.

On Tuesday, we visited the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and had lunch at the museum's Cafe Sebastienne. The museum is small, but has some terrific pieces. It's free - check it out if you're looking for something different to do over lunch.

Tuesday night we found a really old dog in the street outside our house. He was overheating and dehydrated, with no tags or collar. We brought him into our air conditioned garage, put him in a big kennel, and gave him lots of water and food.

As much as we both wanted to keep him, he needed some vet attention (he was limping and was really, really old) and Finnie isn't keen on other dogs. So we took him to the Gladstone Animal Shelter where hopefully his owners will turn up to claim him. Send good thoughts into the universe for homeless and needy pets, people.

Wednesday found us celebrating Mr. Awesome's dad's birthday at Bo Lings. Thursday and Friday we went swimming some more, and Friday night we had dinner at Cascone's in KC north. Shell pasta bowl... mmmm.

Saturday we headed to Legends Outlets and did some shopping. Saturday night found us at Alamo Drafthouse for the movie Lucy (entertaining, visually striking, but also ridiculous) and some of the best chocolate chip cookies in town. Seriously - if you see a movie there, you have to order the cookies.

On Sunday we went back to the pool and I finished a second book, The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan. A concise story with few characters and a basic plot, but unique enough to hold interest. The writing is easy, but sometimes the sentence structure got in my way. O'Nan's use of place as a character was effective and I felt like I could almost feel the water from Niagara, could almost smell the mildew in the tourist traps, could almost taste the liquor from the minibar. A quick pool read that didn't leave me feeling cheap. What more can you ask for?

Sunday evening we went for a walk at Happy Rock Park on our favorite trail. We went for a walk on this trail most days, actually. It's so great.

This week, it's back to work - rejuvenated after having a week off.

In the next four weeks we're running in four 5K races, and I'll post recaps after they happen.

As for books, I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's One Summer: 1927. So far, so good.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Literary ketchup.

I've read four books in the last six weeks. Time for a recap!

First up, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
“He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there's the future. Sheer vertigo.” 

I think, after considering it for a few moments, that the thing I like most about this book is the mood. Not that it's a comfortable one - on the contrary. The mood is one of tenseness, of sharpness, but it's soft around the edges, and occasionally warm and fuzzy. Lots of fuzzy. Maybe hazy. The world that Atwood creates is vividly real, making it easy to imagine the events playing out in our own future. But it also seems impossible in many ways - possible and impossible... and a tiny bit horrifying. 

I realize I didn't describe the story here - I went in knowing nothing about it and liked the experience. I recommend you do the same.

Next was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Ugh. What a hard one to review. For me, this was a truly original book. The story was compelling, the twists and turns kept me engaged. My allegiances to various characters changed throughout the novel. Where the book goes a bit wrong for me, though, is the ending. After such an intense ride, the ending feels so incredibly rushed, tacked on. I'd have liked a bit more exploration of the whys and the what nexts, instead of such abruptness after a novel filled with details.

Then we had The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. I have to say, I love me some Kurt Vonnegut.

This was Kurt Vonnegut's second published novel, and in it he lays the groundwork for the rest of his admirable career.

Sparse, tight paragraphs that say just the right thing? Check.

Complex scientific ideas rendered almost impossibly simple and understandable? Check.

Tralfamadorians? Check.

This is a novel that is deceptively simple, but is expertly crafted and beautifully written. If you love great writing, but are skeptical of the sci-fi genre, give Sirens of Titan a go anyway. You won't be disappointed.

Finally, I read Sula by Toni Morrison. You want a guaranteed good read? Go for the Toni Morrison.
"...but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."

Toni Morrison is such a remarkable storyteller. There's no other author guaranteed to get inside my creases like she does. Every word is so precise, every character knowable, every hurt is acute and every joy is rapturous. All of this is on display in Sula, a story of strong women and strong pride and strong feeling. There's nothing like a Toni Morrison novel to remind me that brilliance can be displayed in the simplest, grittiest, plainest of ways.

Currently reading: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro.